The realm of proper sci-fi movies has been rather desolate in the past couple of years. I say 'proper' so as to dissociate real science-fiction from horseshit such as any of the Transformers movies. There have been a couple of gems sprinkled across the years here and there like Moon, District 9, and why not, Wall-E, as well as the 2009 Star Trek (I'm sure I'm missing a couple but go with me on this one I'm trying to prove a point) but one can surely feel an acute lack of sci-fi in the movie theaters lately, especially one who loves the genre such as myself.
Enter Hunter Prey, a low-budget independent movie which manages to create much more of a sci-fi atmosphere than many other better-financed movies have done.
The movie starts off with a quote from Charles Darwin that will be very reflective of the film's plot.
Once that is done we're pretty much thrown into an action scene, but not without a few establishing shots meant for us to understand that the events are taking place on a desert and rocky planet; we're introduced to our first characters, the survivors of a crashed ship who are under attack from the prisoner that they were transporting.
The survivors all wear what appears to be armor and helmets which look a lot like a cross between Cylons and the Outcast Power Armor in Fallout 3 and it becomes apparent immediately that they are in fact part of some sort of military.
This is the basic setup of the movie, your average cat and mouse game with the military guys tracking down their escaped prisoner, but as the story unfolds it becomes rather clear that the roles are in fact reversed, with the "prey" setting up ambushes and eliminating its "hunters" one by one – this much is pretty clear considering the movie's title.
Now the movie is based around two big reveals, the first one is very underplayed, the movie acting as if we should be expecting it when we actually weren't, and the second one is played as it should be, unless you weren't already thrown off by the first one so that you already assumed what was coming – a weird choice by the filmmakers indeed but on the other hand I went into this movie cold, didn't watch a trailer, didn't even see a poster for it and maybe the impact would've been different if I had since all the posters pretty much give the reveals away. (as a side-note, the image I chose to post with this review is a promo-image which contains none of the text that you'll see on the posters, so it's up to you whether or not you want to spoil the reveals, I would suggest not to, and as such I'll avoid mentioning anything that would spoil your experience)
It is interesting to note that the armor the soldiers wear is red, implying aggression, and that their ranks are illustrated on their helmets with central crests which are reminiscent of the crests that Roman legionaries and centurions used to wear on their helmets, thus illustrating that we are indeed dealing with a very belligerent race of beings. This is much better represented during a discussion between one of the soldiers and the prisoner, when we find out about the soldiers' conquest-based politics and philosophy, as well as the reason behind prisoner's predicament.
Where the movie does suffer is in its pacing, probably due to budget constraints it doesn't exactly stick to your idea of what a movie of this type should be like, with long periods of people basically walking and hiding from each other behind rocks however, they used their surroundings to the maximum and you do get the sense that the characters are in fact on a very harsh planet with not much life scattered about.
This helps to accentuate a sense of general desolation, the lack of distractions helping to keep focus on the main plot-line, which despite the occasional sluggishness doesn't get bogged down.
While I enjoyed the subtle reference to the Roman Empire and imperialism in general, as well as the wonderful shots of the rocky desert – it has to be mentioned that the movie is rather well shot, the director of photography doing a great job with what he had to work with – what I enjoyed most about this movie was that the plot, while not original at its core, had a few twists here and there; the characters in it don't feel like cardboard cut-outs, they act in a manner that you would expect other people in their situation to, not to mention the fact that there is one character who actually knows where all of this is going and acts accordingly, so much-so that I didn't find myself predicting what will happen in the end, instead I was wondering that, and this is a rather good sign for a film in my opinion.
Actually I think that the only time that I found myself yelling at the movie for being stupid is at the beginning when the supposedly military trained survivors walk into an ambush so blatant that it bordered on silly – I do have to say that one of the characters recognizes this eventually thus deflating my argument I guess…but not really, anyway that's pretty much the only thing that really struck me as not within the lines of the movie.
The ending is somewhat ambiguous, but only somewhat. By the end, the "hunter" and "prey" develop as characters and reach a point of mutual respect so you can kind of understand why the movie ends as it does.
In conclusion, considering its budget, it's a great effort to bring a classic-style sci-fi story to the screen, it is a bit slow on occasion but I don't think that you'll be bored with it by the end, a good watch for all fans of sci-fi literature and movies.